• Mancini angered by dropped points and Stoke's robust style
• City have won only two of their past nine away games
Manchester City have lost the initiative in the title race and are not performing like potential champions, on or off the field. A draw in the Stoke bear pit left them with two wins in their past nine away games, and as unimpressive as their football was Roberto Mancini's fit of the vapours when he shunned the post-match handshake with his opposite number, Tony Pulis, and could not trust himself to speak rationally to the media, sending David Platt in his place.
The Italian aesthete was said to be upset by Stoke's aggressive approach on Saturday, in which case one wonders where he has been hiding in recent years. The team from the Potteries are renowned/notorious, according to taste, for their muscularity, and everybody knows what to expect and prepares accordingly. Everybody bar Mancini, it seems. To the impartial observer, Stoke were no more physical than is their norm, and there was only one incident worthy of complaint, when Dean Whitehead's forearm made blood-letting contact with David Silva's ear.
Even in that case the referee, Howard Webb, deemed the blow accidental, and he may well have been right. Mancini's attitude (Platt said the manager was "unhappy and needs time to calm down") smacked of sour grapes. Stoke's rough and tumble is not exactly the Beautiful Game, but English football is a broad church, and even style heretics are a welcome part of its earthy catechism.
Some of us may prefer Swansea City's delightful passing, which has them one point better off than Stoke, at less cost, but each to his own. Mancini's City, incidentally, lost at Swansea a fortnight ago and at Sporting Lisbon before that, so their form away from Fortress Etihad represents cause for concern – especially with a trip to the Emirates coming up on 8 April.
Without Sergio Agüero, who was absent with a foot injury, City rarely troubled Stoke's mountain range of a defence. Edin Dzeko's radar was on the blink, Mario Balotelli was at his capricious worst, and it was surprising that the introduction of Carlos Tevez was delayed until the 73rd minute, which was too late for the prodigal to effect the sort of improvement that snatched victory from the maw of defeat against Chelsea four days earlier.
Pulis thought, with justification, that Stoke were denied a penalty early on, when Gareth Barry brought down Glenn Whelan, and they threatened again when Matthew Etherington's corner brushed Ryan Shawcross, demanding a goalline clearance at the far post by Pablo Zabaleta. When they did score, after 59 minutes, it was well worth waiting for, Peter Crouch staking a claim for the goal of the season award.
Supplied by Jermaine Pennant at an awkward high angle out on the right, he brought the ball down and volleyed it with a smooth dexterity that belied his rangy gawkiness, a glorious strike soaring across and over Joe Hart before dipping inside the far post. Sky TV, whose boffins measure such things, gave the range as 29 metres, and to beat the England goalkeeper from that distance takes something special.
"It was a fantastic goal, and no one-off," Pulis said. "He practises that technique and does it in training." Crouch, who said he still harboured hopes of getting back into the England squad for Euro 2012, rated it as "probably the best goal of my career". City's equaliser came from even further out – 34 metres according to Sky. Asmir Begovic had Yaya Touré's howitzer blast covered until it took a wrong-footing deflection from a brave attempt at a headed clearance by Shawcross.
Wilson Palacios and Touré, again from distance, threatened to win it for their respective sides but a point apiece was the most equitable outcome, even if Mancini did not see it that way.
Shortly before kick-off, before he had the hump and was prepared to speak, he insisted he was not bothered by any mind games Sir Alex Ferguson might try. In fairness, it was not the United manager but Patrick Vieira who started all that nonsense, when he said it was "desperation" to bring Paul Scholes out of retirement. Rio Ferdinand then joined in and was just as daft when he attributed City's big crowds to fans "coming out of the woodwork" – a gratuitous insult to the most staunch supporters of them all.
Lest we forget, attendances at Maine Road averaged over 28,000 in 1998-99, when City were in the third tier. For purposes of comparison, Newcastle's "Toon Army" often lauded for their loyalty, was down to 15,000 for the last home game before Kevin Keegan took charge for the first time.
Man of the match: Peter Crouch (Stoke City)